Wednesday, June 13, 2007

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                     

Contact: Colin Walle, NFFE Local 1998 President

Phone: (206) 808-5764

The union representing Passport Agency workers is predicting greater difficulty processing Passport applications throughout 2007 and into 2008.  National Federation of Federal Employees, Local 1998 (a nationwide local representing all bargaining unit Passport workers) blames unnecessary staffing shortfalls for the crisis.  The union strongly supports the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), but is advocating that the land/sea phase be delayed until sufficient staffing is brought on board.

The union holds that the State Department did not hire the needed personnel to complete the work despite knowing what the increased demands on the agency would be.  Contrary to a statement made last Friday (6/8/07) by a State Department spokesperson that the Department did not expect the flood of applications, the union says the agency accurately predicted the increase.  In February of 2005 the State Department informed the union that 15-20 million applications were expected as a result of the new rules requiring a passport for travel in the Western Hemisphere.  In 2006, an estimate of 16.2 million applications for FY2007 was posted.  Anticipating the expected workload increase, the agency told the union in February 2005 that they planned on adding 468 Passport workers, most of whom were to be adjudicators.  The new rules went into effect on January 23, 2007, yet only about 185 new adjudicators had been added. 

“Because there aren’t enough adjudicators, applicants have huge delays,” said Colin Walle, President of NFFE Local 1998.  “Some have missed their trips.  We are buried in applications, and workload pressures are undermining the integrity of the adjudication process.  We’ve got mandatory overtime and, in some cases, unsafe conditions.”  A Homeland Security spokesperson recently stated (5/11/07) that the January 1, 2008 land/sea rule date was a “firm deadline.”  Walle said, “If that happens the worst is yet to come.” 

Some have touted a proposed “Enhanced Border Crossing Driver’s License” as the solution, instead of requiring a passport for land/sea borders.  The union opposes this plan because “the process is wide open to fraud and error,” explained Walle.  The union supports the Department’s plan to create new wallet-sized passport cards as a cheaper and more convenient document for land/sea border crossings. 

“The WHTI is a vital part of securing our nation’s borders,” said Walle.  “Ideally it would already be in place.  We are reluctantly calling for a delay in the land/sea phase until the agency has enough trained staffing and the passport card is finalized and available.”  

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